So you may not be able to read this, since apparently the world might have ended at 5:11 a.m. Central, but even if we’re still around, we have this to look forward to: Today is the darkest day of the year.
I mean that in the most science-dropping manner possible, but against the backdrop of both the Mayan heads-up and the claustrophobia of the Winter Solstice, I share with you the news that A.J. Pierzynski is a clean physical away from joining the Texas Rangers.
My thoughts on Pierzynski are of record. The things that stack up in the wrong column as far as his reputation in the game is concerned have long seemed to me like they’d be an ill fit on this team, a group that in this run of contention has prided itself on exceptional chemistry, and it’s not as if he’s put up Barry Bonds or even Jeff Kent levels of production to overshadow the other stuff.
When people talk about the veteran, the conversation usually starts with his brash streak that tends to venture beyond that line that separates swagger from offensiveness.
(I wish he’d pull an Artest and insist that, instead of initialing Anthony John, he be referred to as “Tony Pierzynski.” That would be outstanding.)
In spite of his reputation as a premier agitator, he did shift the spotlight a bit in 2012, when at age 35, in his 15th big league season, he managed to put up a career-best .827 OPS, boosted primarily by a career-high .501 slug. Over his previous 10 seasons, in each of which he played between 128 and 140 games and got between 469 and 570 plate appearances, the left-handed hitter averaged a dozen home runs and 202 total bases.
This past year, in 520 trips to the plate, Pierzynski went deep 27 times and racked up 240 total bases.
As was his .287/.338/.536 slash against right-handed pitching, a needed element in a lineup that’s lost a big part of its left-handed-hitting presence.
And so is the fact that, despite the career year he comes off of, it only took a one-year commitment and a mere $7.5 million (compare the two years and $17 million Pittsburgh is giving Russell Martin) to get Pierzynski to agree to terms.
And so is the argument, which I’m open to buying into, that the Rangers’ clubhouse could stand to get a little edgier.
Which it will.
In their own, different ways, first-time teammates Pierzynski and Joe Nathan are going to take on bigger roles in the Rangers clubhouse, nine years after they were traded for each other in what was a landslide win for Minnesota, who added the pre-arbitration Nathan and blue-chip prospect Francisco Liriano (plus Boof Bonser) for Pierzynski, who lasted one year in San Francisco before wearing out his welcome, getting non-tendered, and taking a pay cut to sign a one-year free agent deal with the White Sox.
I listened to a radio interview last night with ESPN Chicago’s Bruce Levine, who covered Pierzynski on a daily basis for the last eight years, and while he addressed the personality issues that we’ve come to associate with the catcher, and noted that Pierzynski was extremely inconsistent with the media, a source of frustration that Levine might have implied between the lines has not helped the way he’s characterized in the press, he also said a few things that caught my attention.
He’s a pure leader, Levine said, and “all about winning.”
There’s not a smarter guy in the game, Levine suggested.
And nobody works harder.
And he’s super-durable (his lone career disabled list stay was due to a fractured wrist in late 2011 that he returned from in three weeks), having caught more than 100 games 12 straight seasons, tied for the fourth-longest such streak in baseball history.
And his huge ego (which Levine, the child of a single parent himself, believes he can relate to) leads to boos that he absolutely feeds off of.
(By the way, while Pierzynski’s career slash at Rangers Ballpark [.271/.331/.421] is right in line with his overall lifetime numbers, he’s been better in Anaheim [.327/.380/.447].)
Levine also admitted that he talked to Rangers officials this off-season about Pierzynski, a very interesting added layer to what we might normally envision as an organization’s standard exercise in due diligence.
Is Pierzynski going to repeat his career year at the plate? Hard to call it likely. Is he an exceptional catcher? While he gets good marks for his handling of pitchers (even by those who over the years haven’t particularly cared for him personally), he’s not going to shut down a running game, but he’s going to start more games than Geovany Soto and most likely relegate Eli Whiteside to Round Rock duties, and that’s a much stronger situation behind the plate than Texas had yesterday.
Soto will probably continue to work with Yu Darvish, and aside from that we could see a rough platoon, where Pierzynski faces most right-handed starters and Soto draws lefties most often.
And, as we’re getting used to here, we may very well be looking at a completely different catching tandem a year from now. At some point that will end.
For now, Pierzynski will probably give this team some offense, will handle the intangibles behind the plate in a way that should stand out from the negative stuff since we’ll get to watch him every day, will operate on a manageable one-year deal that doesn’t cost the Rangers a draft pick, and will add an element of edge to the Texas club that won’t be unwelcome at all.
Hey, I was cool with Milton Bradley’s one year here.
I went into this winter not wanting the Rangers to sign A.J. Pierzynski, but they have, and as far as I can tell the world hasn’t come to an end.
And I’ll have to admit, what he did in that 2005 playoff game against the Angels (which I sorta liked) didn’t beat me down as much as his pregame and postgame work on Fox’s national broadcasts the last couple post-seasons.
I never liked Pierzynski as a Fox analyst during the playoffs, and now that he’s joined the Rangers, who needed a frontline catcher and some left-handed pop and, despite a slow winter on the transaction wire, unquestionably remain a World Series contender, I know one real good way to make sure he’s not back doing television commentary in October this year.